Jul 25, 2009

Pruning the Family Tree

When discussions about my children’s family tree are raised I plan to tell them, “There is no history, our family began with your father and I.” Mentally I have lopped off the sprawling, infested branches that revealed the sins of my heritage.

Concealment of these living ghosts stems from envy of other’s interesting and respectful legacies, such as my husband’s acceptable genealogy. My mother-in-law is proudly aware of the name and details of each member’s father’s mother’s father.
In my daughter’s baby albums, many blank spaces appear accusingly above my own parent’s names. Sure, the girls have their grandmother’s name and their great grandmother’s name, because the women stay. It is the men in the family that abscond, leaving us to guiltily explain the gaps. There’s a void right above my mother’s name, next to her mother, and as if to prove there was once some bond between my divorced parents, my father has the same blank space above his name.

My husband and I share an intimate joke that whenever anyone of appropriate age appears in the public eye, we’ll suggest the possibility of that being my grandfather, or ‘Pop’ as I like to call this enigma.

What of the relatives I do know?

Should I entertain my daughters with tales of the Aunt that actually did run away with the circus at sixteen? She went on to have five children to an equal amount of fathers, all of whom ended up in foster care and the youngest pregnant at eleven. There’s the enchanting story of another Aunt, mother of six, heroine addict and now released from prison for the second time. I could explain the encouragement my Nana provides for any girl that continues our family legacy of teenage pregnancy and single parenting. I’m pretty sure Nana thought I was gay or worse – infertile. When I hadn’t produced any children by my mid-twenties, she let me know that it still wasn’t too late (I was single at the time, but apparently there are ways to convince men to have sex with you even without a relationship), good advice Nana, thanks.

I’ve considered conjuring up relatives and backgrounds anyone could be proud of, the kind that have invented or imported some much loved Australian icon. But, by gathering stories from those I’ve envied, I have come to realize I’m not alone. Even my Husband has the brother-in-law who, as an addict, devised a foolproof scheme to break into a pharmacy after hours, undetected, via the ceiling. Great plan, except for the fact that once inside he couldn’t leave by the locked doors or reach the ceiling and was arrested when found in the morning.

Every family has that Aunt with questionable morals or the cousin who froths at the mouth. I can let my skeletons come out and talk freely of their antics. There is always going to be a relative that makes every family cringe and whisper about them, and if you think there isn’t one in yours, maybe it’s you.

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